It is more than obvious that becoming a victim of emotional abuse can be very damaging to your emotional well-being. Everyone who has already been in a relationship with a narcissist – or with an otherwise distanced, unavailable and abusive person – knows all too well that they can tear us apart and leave us broken, despaired and frustrated. However, there is far less talk about the fact that narcissists cannot only wreak havoc to our emotional balance, but can actually be a hazard to our health. I made this experience while I was in a relationship with a narcissist. The constant agony of being treated with distance, inconsistency and neglect led me to treat myself in a very unhealthful way. Besides, after a certain amount of time, the stress and pain were taking their toll on my body. The worst part was that I didn’t even care that much about the bad physical state I was in. I felt so down and low that I couldn’t have cared less. Looking at my complete indifference in retrospect leaves me shocked and in disbelief. At times, I feel extremely ashamed and angry at myself because I treated myself so neglectfully. Back then, I completely lacked the clarity of mind to put a stop to my bodily decay. I was so engulfed by pain and drama that I didn’t give much thought to my health.
During the first few weeks of being with the narcissist, my body was still able to handle the stress quite well. After a few weeks, however, the drama and stress were beginning to reflect in my physical state. First of all, I began to feel stinging pains in my chest, which reminded me all to clearly of the fact that my heart had already taken enough damage. At times, my entire chest felt so tight and constricted that I had trouble breathing. On top of that, the agony that came with all the disappointments and the insecurity led to an extreme loss of appetite and to insomnia. I often lay awake for hours, being tortured by unpleasant thoughts, and being kept from falling asleep by my efforts to make sense of his behavior and to find the rationale behind his detachment and unavailability. The lack of sleep, malnutrition and constant exposure to emotional stress caused me to feel extremely despaired, tired and exhausted. Every little task suddenly became strenuous and trying. Despite the constant feeling of exhaustion I still had trouble falling asleep.
I began taking sleeping pills and calmatives in order to be able to function in my daily life and to find some sleep at night. However, since they soon lost their effect, I began to take more and more of them, steadily increasing the dose without giving it much thought. I know that to some of you this might sound like an exaggerated reaction to a solvable problem. After all, I could have just left him. However, things are often not as easy as they seem. I was convinced that I had already invested too much to just let go and opt out. I wanted things to work out so desperately that I lost sight of myself in the process. I not only started taking pills, but also drank more alcohol and smoked more cigarettes than I used to. Before meeting the narcissist, I was only an occasional drinker. After I had been with him for some time, I started drinking more and more. I never lost control, I never drank far too much, but I began to rely on the calming effect that came with drinking a class of wine in the evening. Looking at if from today’s perspective I am very aware of the fact that I was slowly losing control – and that I was on a downward spiral towards complete decay. Back then, I wasn’t really aware of what I was doing to myself, because I didn’t really care all that much about it. I felt so low that I couldn’t have cared less about what I was doing to my body.
After a certain amount of time, the constant exposure to stress and my tendency to treat myself with neglect were beginning to show. I lost weight and my hair began to fall out. Besides, I was beginning to generally feel unwell and unhealthy. What greatly added to my indisposed state was the fact that I began feeling really depressed. At times I couldn’t stop crying; at other times I felt completely apathetic – being unable to get out of bed, not caring at all about what was going on around me. Additionally, I became very irritable, and every triviality could cause me to get angry or to start crying. I guess I wasn’t much fun to be around at the time – and still my family and my best friend were treating me with nothing but patience and understanding. I can’t put enough stress on the fact that their unconditional support was saving me. I don’t know where I would be without it. The depression could get so overwhelming that I at times really lost the will to live. As the narcissist sucked all the joy out of my life with his penchant for drama, ambiguity and triangulation, I fell deeper and deeper into a seemingly bottomless pit. The only thing I longed for was sleep, and waking up in the morning began to feel like a giant slap in the face. I guess this indifference towards life greatly contributed to my tendency to treat myself with neglect. Why should I have cared that my health was going down the drain? At this point it is important to emphasize that I was never suicidal, I never really contemplated putting an end to my life. However, I stopped being enthusiatic about life and a strong apathy and feeling of hoplessness were taking possession of me.
I know that some of the things I related in this post make me sound like a pathetic mess. I often felt that way about my own behavior and was ashamed that I allowed someone else to gain so much power over me. One could say that my pursuit of affection went way too far and made me lose control over my own body. In my exhausted and depressed state, I didn’t really care all that much about my physical well-being and therefore couldn’t bring up the determination to save myself. I’m certainly not proud of myself and it was not easy to talk about it and to admit my own failure. I am still shocked that I let things get out of hand to such an enormous extent. Back then, I wasn’t taking my mental and physical decay all that serious because I was just too apathetic. Now, I am very much aware of the fact that I was actually endangering my health, and that I was driven by emotional abuse to hurt and neglect myself. On the one hand, my physical state was negatively affected by the stress and drama the narcissist exposed me to. However, I also began to turn into his accomplice when it came to destroying my health. I was led by his ambiguity and distance to treat myself with neglect and indifference. I simply couldn’t find the strength and determination to take better care of myself. I was simply too depressed to give my health much thought.
Being with a narcissist can therefore be a real hazard to your health. I nearly lost control, and I don’t even dare to think about what would have happened if the relationship hadn’t ended so soon. I presumably would have continued on the downward spiral until I would have done some real damage to myself. Earlier, I often reacted with lack of understanding towards people who allowed themselves to be damaged by love. Now, I know better than that: I know how it feels to be defeated and to still not find the determination to opt out. I know how it feels to be damaged by a willingness to love, give and sacrifice. I know that emotional abuse and addiction to love can lead you to fall into a bottomless pit – to completely lose control. From an outside perspective, my reaction to the narcissist’s unavailabilty may seem exaggerated and unreasonable. Being caught in a dramatic and unhealthy relationship, however, greatly affects your ability to think rationally and impairs you to such a degree that you cannot muster the strength and determination to do what would be best.
Even though I feel ashamed about my lack of determination and extreme loss of control, I still felt the need to talk about it. I know that there are many people out there who made similar experiences – people who sacrificed their own health in their efforts to make an unhealthy relationship work. It is important to raise awareness that being the codependent partner in an emotionally abusive relationship can actually lead to physical decay (or even worse). My addiction to being loved and appreciated caused real damage and I’m happy that I managed to get back on track. I can finally sleep again, I eat regularly and I feel healthier and happier every day. My hair is no longer falling out, I stopped drinking, and I started taking yoga classes to increase my physical and mental well-being. I’m convinced that the experience of bodily decay was a wake-up call for me: I don’t think I will ever again let things get out of hand. I choose to belief that in the future I will have the strength to opt out of relationships with people who are sucking the life out of me and leave me sick and broken.